Children begin to learn about loss usually in very simple ways – a fly-away balloon, a smashed ice cream cone, a favorite bear left behind, a nukki “disappeared for good”.
But sometimes, unfortunately, ready or not, they are faced with a huge loss, such as happened this past week with the accidental death of Miss Alma, the director of the La Crosse Three Rivers Waldorf School.
I believe Miss Alma was bigger than life to these children. She was both strong and gentle, the heart and soul of this special place. One mom whose daughter is a young teen now and no longer a student there shared a memory her daughter had. She said she loved the way Miss Alma would put on a bandaid when you got hurt. Snip, snap, zoop and there you go- caring, always, but matter of fact too – willing you to carry on with your play, your work.
As adults we want to protect our children from experiencing sad events. We fear they will be too upset if they see adults sad, if they see adults cry. But actually, this is a healthy way for children to experience grief and loss, to understand it from the inside out, to share it with others, to remember and cry, to remember and laugh.
For just as we believe children learn best by doing, they also learn best how to feel by doing, to be actively included in taking part in the process of grieving.
And this seems to be what is happening for the children and families at the school. I’ve been told that the school was to hold a leaf ceremony for all the families and children. They planned to walk together the four or five blocks from the school to the Black River, a familiar walk for all these school children. They would select a leaf to toss into the river with a private word, thought or prayer for Miss Alma. That night there was to be a school get-together at a nearby farm with a shared potluck and a bonfire – community coming together in memory and celebration – a community modeling and showing children how to do both.
In times like this, our children immediately fear what will happen now. Can this happen to me, to my mom or dad, to my friend? Who will take care of me?
As much as we want to protect our children in every way, we are not able to control when sad things happen. Yet it is through the embrace of these children in community, in inclusion, in sharing, in doing, in play and in work, that their loss will be assimilated and their understanding deepened.
Thank you, Miss Alma – for your gifts.